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Inspire 2022: Workshops Cover a Range of Topics

March 16, 2022

A significant aspect of this year’s Inspire 2022 binational gathering are the workshops to be presented by ministry and worship leaders on a wide range of ideas, practices, and programs.

Bringing in pastors, volunteers, and many others to celebrate the ministry of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, Inspire 2022 will take place from Thursday, Aug. 4, to Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022, at the Tinley Park Convention Center in Tinley Park, a suburb of Chicago, Ill.

Besides the workshops, Inspire 2022 will offer plenary speakers and times of worship as well as plenty of time for people to mingle and talk together.

This will be the third such gathering of ministry leaders and volunteers from across the denomination. The first Inspire event took place in Detroit, Mich., in August 2017, and the second was held in Windsor, Ont., in 2019.

Inspire 2021, planned for last summer in Chicago, had to be postponed till 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the CRCNA did offer Inspire “Light,” an online event, in August 2021.

“We are working hard to make sure Inspire 2022 will be a successful and valuable experience for those who attend,” said Kristen deRoo Vanderberg, the CRCNA’s director of communications.

“Looking at the workshops, you’ll see we have put together a long list that gives an in-depth, educational, and enjoyable view of the work being done in lots of churches and other settings across the denomination.”

There will be sessions on prayer, suggestions on how to include people with disabilities into your church, and personal stories on the world of crime, punishment, and restorative justice.

In addition, there will be sessions on how to renew your congregation, ways in which you can better incorporate multicultural worship into your church, and workshops on how to address the issue of race.

“Inspire is a good conference with lots of good speakers,” said Robert Keeley, a visiting professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, who will lead an Inspire workshop titled “The Building Blocks of Faith” with his wife, Laura, who serves with Faith Formation Ministries.

“A lot of good learning happens at Inspire,” he added. “It is great to connect with others in the CRCNA, which has many different expressions. At the same time, Inspire is an opportunity for us to have the same experience and reaffirm that we share the same faith together.”

For more on what the workshops are designed to offer, here is a sampling of workshops along with comments and reflections from presenters.

Workshop: “An Example of Incarnational Ministry: Growing Diversity”

Taehoo Lee, a pastor at Spirit and Truth Fellowship CRC in Philadelphia, Pa., will talk about his 19 years of living and doing ministry in a mainly African American neighborhood in the city. He’ll also speak about the summer camp he holds in his neighborhood, attended by kids from all over the area.

“I don’t have a church, but I have a parish, a ministry that grew out of living here,” he said. “I see my neighborhood as my mission field. I’m just doing life together with my neighbors. My hope is that people see Jesus in the ways we live our lives together.”

Workshop: “The Blanket Exercise”

Viviana Cornejo, who works for the Office of Race Relations, and Shannon Perez, who oversees the Indigenous Family Centre in Winnipeg, Man., will discuss and lead people through an exercise designed to broaden the awareness of participants on the history of how Native Americans and Indigenous peoples have been treated by settlers to Canada and the United States.

The Blanket Exercise, which literally uses blankets to walk participants through the history of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States, helps people understand why reconciliation is needed and how to take steps toward reconciliation.

“We want people to know the history that has led to Native Americans’ having high rates of alcoholism and suicide,” said Cornejo.

People today, more so than in the past, are starting to understand and accept the role their forebears played in exploiting and oppressing native peoples. Increasingly, this is a topic that mainly white people are growing sensitive to and are becoming willing to talk about, said Cornejo.

“Despite everything, we have been able to present what we need to present, and it has been an opportunity for people to learn and to look at things they can do” in the area of reconciliation, she said.

Workshop: “Is Your Church Safe?”

Every week, the CRCNA’s Safe Church Ministry office receives calls from people who say they have experienced some form of abuse in their church.

“We regularly get calls from church leaders and church goers about abuse of power and other types of abuse in our churches,” said Amanda Benckhuysen, director of the Safe Church office.

“Our job is to help you make your church a safer place. Abuse prevention has not been on the radar screens of churches,” she said.

But that turned around when Synod 2019 approved a number of recommendations calling for churches to place prevention of the abuse of power higher on their list of priorities, said Benckhuysen.

In the workshop she will discuss the role of Safe Church, best practices, and the resources it has to offer churches. She will also introduce a new Safe Church Assessment tool designed to help churches discern areas of risk and opportunity in abuse prevention.

“We are not the police. We want to walk alongside people and churches and help them in the work of abuse prevention and response,” she said.

Workshop: “Worship, Endurance, and Hope”

Worshiping communities whose members are people of color often have to deal with the harsh realities of marginalization and racism in their daily lives. Often, however, their response is one of faith and resilience.

“In this session we will explore how our Black and Latino community at Grace and Peace Church on Chicago’s West Side responds to daily adverse experiences with worship, endurance, and hope,” said Chantel Varnado, worship arts director at Grace and Peace. Joining her in presenting this seminar will be Preston Hogue, a pastor at the church.

“After all we have experienced across the globe these last few years in particular, my hope is that those who attend Inspire 2022 will truly be inspired by the transformative power of Jesus,” said Varnado.

”We hope that through our specific workshop people will understand more deeply that worship is formed in response to suffering – shaped by resilience . . . And the voices that endure such things are not simply expressing themselves in worship; . . . the power that fuels those communities is indeed something that God sees as transformational and holy. . . .”

Workshop: “Perseverance in Ministry: Lifelines for Drowning Leaders”

In his role as a ministry consultant for the CRCNA’s Pastor Church Resources office, Sean Baker has worked and counseled with pastors who have dealt with a range of struggles in their churches as a result of political disruptions and the COVID-19 pandemic. Other speakers will be David Den Haan and Zach Olson, also from Pastor Church Resources.

“For many of us, anticipation of and preparation for Synod 2022 is consuming a lot of energy. I think Inspire is well situated to remind us that our calling is so much more than just overtures and position statements. God has given us unique and vital opportunities for gospel ministry in our communities. All the attention on synod may sometimes distract us from that. Inspire will be a great chance to reset and renew our calling to serve,” said Baker.

“Our workshop on perseverance in ministry is designed to encourage ministry leaders experiencing some form of burnout after the strenuous past couple of years. In this workshop we'll get back to the basics of recovering our abiding life in Christ, the true vine.”

In another workshop Baker will talk about “What Happens Next after Synod 2022.” This seminar is designed to help churches process whatever Synod 2022 decides about the challenging issues on its agenda.

“I expect churches will have some challenging decisions to make about what those synodical decisions will mean for their local communities,” said Baker. “PCR will offer some proven skills and practices that can increase trust and improve discernment to prepare councils and congregations to make important decisions.”

Workshop: “E-Relations: The Role and History of Ecumenical Relations in the CRCNA”

This workshop will focus on biblical principles, theological considerations, and historical developments that have shaped the CRCNA’s engagement in ecumenical relations through the decades.

Opportunity will also be given for participants to ask questions and offer insights and feedback with respect to some of the ever-changing aspects of the denomination’s involvement with other churches and ecclesiastical organizations, said William Koopmans, chair of the denomination’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee and senior pastor of Hope CRC, Brantford, Ont.

“Part of the fallout of not holding synod for the past two years has been a lack of opportunity to engage in person with delegates from other denominations with whom we have ecumenical relationships,” he said.

“We are hoping to compensate for that in part with a number of ecumenical representatives at Inspire 2022, especially from churches in Africa. They will be invited to attend a special ecumenical event prior to Inspire and to participate throughout the duration of the conference,” said Koopmans.

Workshop: “How Old Is Your Church?”

Larry Doornbos, director of Vibrant Congregations, a joint Reformed Church in America and CRC effort that helps congregations discover their God-given, hope-filled future, will be doing two workshops at Inspire 2022 – both geared to helping churches engaged in, or looking at, the process of renewal. His second workshop is titled “Simple Sabotage.”

About the first workshop he said, “A critical part of stepping into the future is to name our present reality, beginning with discerning where our church is in its life cycle.

“It is always so good to know where you are. Are you an aging church, a middle-aged church, a vibrant church in its adolescence?” – and he’s not necessarily talking about the age of church members but rather their mindset, energy level, and capacity for imagining and carrying out new things.

As for his second workshop, Doornbos said it will be about the need to expect some level of sabotage when your congregation undertakes fresh steps in ministry and mission.

“I want to help leaders identify the ways people sabotage taking a church where it needs to go,” he said. “I would like them to be able to see these things as being the way they are and to work wisely and pastorally to name them and move forward.”

Reflecting on Inspire 2022 itself, Doornbos said he sees the event “as a wonderful time to get together in the CRC, to see the resources that people have and are willing to share with one another. As for myself, I consider it a gift to do these kinds of presentations, and I appreciate the conversations that come out of them.”

For more about the workshops at Inspire 2022, visit the website’s Schedule and Workshops page.